Public Release: 

University of Pittsburgh to lead first-ever NIMH-funded genetic study of anorexia nervosa

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 3 - Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have been chosen to lead the first-ever government-funded genetic study of anorexia nervosa. The National Institute of Mental Health-funded study is a five-year grant, with more than $10 million in funding, which brings together 11 groups of researchers from North America and Europe (10 clinical centers and one to analyze data) to find regions of the human genome that contain genes that influence risk for anorexia. To find these regions, the researchers will recruit families with two or more members, mainly siblings, who have or had anorexia nervosa, and analyze the DNA from the participants.

"There is no known treatment for anorexia nervosa. Studies such as this one should help us understand how differences in the genes of some individuals contribute to this illness. These findings should help develop truly effective therapies," said Walter H. Kaye, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-principal investigator.

The research will build on recent genetic studies supported by the Price Foundation, a private, European-based foundation that included most of the same investigators. Bernie Devlin, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-principal investigator, noted that the Price Foundation studies have already pointed to four regions of the genome to look for genes affecting susceptibility to anorexia. Because this is such a complex disease, a large number of families will be needed to understand the genetic basis.

"In addition to the development of new, more effective treatments, research studies that identify the genetic basis of illnesses such as anorexia nervosa will undoubtedly help to reduce unfair stigma toward the mentally ill," said Harry A. Brandt, M.D., head of the department of psychiatry at St. Joseph Medical Center, Baltimore.

According to Wade Berrettini, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and co-principal investigator, finding 400 families with two or more members with anorexia nervosa will be quite a challenge. "If people would like to learn more about the genetics of anorexia or this study, they can get more information on our web site or they can call the study's toll free number and speak to one of our research representatives."

Anorexia nervosa is a serious and potentially lethal illness. The eating disorder is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness, the obsessive fear of gaining weight and emaciation. It commonly begins during adolescence in girls and it runs in families. Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University and a co-principal investigator with the data analysis group, notes that research studies completed in the past decade suggest that a number of traits, such as perfectionism, anxiety and obsessionality, contribute to a risk to develop anorexia nervosa. "This research will help us identify genes that contribute to anorexia nervosa and will open up new avenues for detection, prevention and treatment."


The leaders of the 10 clinical centers are Dr. Kaye and Maria LaVia, M.D., at the University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Berrettini, University of Pennsylvania; Katherine A. Halmi, M.D., Cornell University; Manfred M. Fichter, M.D., Roseneck Hospital affiliated with the University of Munich (Germany); Michael Strober, Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles; Allan S. Kaplan, M.D., FRCP(C) and D. Blake Woodside M.D., FRCP(C), University Health Network of Toronto General Hospital (Canada); James E. Mitchell, M.D., University of North Dakota; Craig L. Johnson, Ph.D., Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, Okla.; Dr. Brandt and Steven Crawford, M.D., St. Joseph Medical Center, Baltimore; and Ian Jones, M.D., Nick Craddock, M.D., and David Robertson, M.D., University of Birmingham (England).

For more information on how to participate, please call 1-888-895-3886 or visit the Web site at

Information about the Price Foundation can be found at


Lisa Rossi
PHONE: 412-647-3555
FAX: 412-624-3184

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